Why have I been put into a mind to make a kissing ball? Well, here in New England (U.S.), we're entering the gray season, as cooler temperatures try to sever our ties with the plant domain. The rest of the year, I pretty much go with the flow -- but not now. My watch word during the gray season is "recalcitrance." With all my might, I resist being cut off from the wonders of the plant world to which I had become so accustomed over the course of the last eight months or so.
Gone now are the days of stepping outdoors to see how, for instance, the leaves on my Virginia sweetspire have changed from last week. That's regrettable, but it is also undeniably true. I realize that now, when I step outdoors, I'll witness plants resigned to a rather static state, until spring returns. But that doesn't mean I have to take it lying down! I'm not a big fan of houseplants, but there are plenty of ways to keep the memories of better times alive....
One way to maintain a connection with the plant world during winter is to dry certain plant parts during fall, then bring them inside. For instance, I have some dried hydrangea flowers hanging up right next to me, as I type these words. I also like to dry hardshell gourds to work on my gourd craft.
Likewise, I enjoy using materials from the plant world to make Christmas decorations, such as kissing balls. While not all the materials in my kissing ball project are natural (heck, a Styrofoam ball lies at the very center of a kissing ball), I do discuss several natural materials in the process of showing you how to make kissing balls.
Looking ahead to spring:
Wintertime fun: How to Make a Snowman
Voice your opinion: What Are the Best Christmas Yard Decorations?
Photo ©2008 David Beaulieu (licensed to About, Inc.)
I know, I know: technically, it's not winter yet. But when I'm out driving around and gawking at landscaping far and wide, if what's catching my eye is Christmas decorating rather than flowers, my brain says "winter." I'm funny like that. The calendar may say "fall," but what I see is the growing season's funeral.
Anyhow, this New Englander is already aching to see flowers in people's landscaping again, and I'm sure plenty of you, too are experiencing similar withdrawal symptoms. So I thought I'd share with you a rejuvenating passage about daffodils that I came across recently. It's from How Green Was My Valley, the 1940 classic by Richard Llewellyn (love the way he managed to cram four L's into his name!):
"'Look up by there at the top of the mountain, by the Glas Fryn. There are daffodils, see.'
"And indeed, there they were, with their green leaves a darker sharpness in the grass about them, and the yellow blooms belling in the wind, up by the Glas Fryn and all along the valley, as far as I could turn my head to see.
"Gold may be found again, and men may know its madness again, but no one shall know how I felt to see the goldness of daffodils growing up there that morning."
Another flower I wouldn't mind seeing: Dr. Ruppel Clematis
Photo ©2012 David Beaulieu, Landscaping Guide (licensed to About, Inc.)
- Pruning in late fall or early winter, in order to bring the cut stems into the house and enjoy them indoors
- Pruning later in winter, to keep the outdoor display at its best
This is the kind of decision I like to have my plants present me with, because I win either way! Most importantly, though, growing evergreen plants such as blue holly will help denizens of cold climates dispel the winter blues. Gazing into the bright orbs of their trademark holly berries, it's hard not to feel a glimmer of cheer, even on the bleakest of winter days.
'Sky Pencil' holly (picture), likewise, presents me with a delicious dilemma. It's very amenable to pruning, so I can easily keep it compact if I wish. But as it matures it's also capable of putting on some height, as long as its owner allows it to by sparing the pruning shears. I tell you, it's a tough decision!
You can learn more by reading my article covering some popular kinds of holly.
Photo ©2012 David Beaulieu, Landscaping Guide (licensed to About, Inc.)
At Thanksgiving dinner recently, we were reminiscing about how, back in my childhood, our family used to pick out a Christmas tree from a lot, install it in the living room and decorate it. Ah, those were the days, when I would set out a cup of hot chocolate for Santa Claus on Christmas Eve, but then forget to check next morning if the jolly old elf had actually imbibed it, so excited was I to check something else instead: the presents under the Christmas tree.
What should you look for when picking out a Christmas tree? Marie Iannotti tells you how to pick out a Christmas tree that's right for you in this article. Discover the pros and cons of the various types of trees used to decorate for Christmas. You'll find tips here that will prepare you for that trip to the tree farm and discover how to care for the tree once you get it home.
Related resource: Spruce Trees
Get your dose of holiday cheer: Inflatable Santa Claus in a Plane
Photo ©2009 David Beaulieu, Landscaping Guide (licensed to About, Inc.)
Pictures of outdoor Christmas decorations are fun to look at, even though the real thing is obviously better. I take my mother out every year at holiday time for "the tour." This ritual consists of driving around my home town (and outlying areas) in search of the best outdoor Christmas displays in people's yards. It's one of the better parts of the holiday season for me.
For those of an egalitarian bent, one of the nice things about this past-time will be the recognition of the fact that "the rich" (whatever that means nowadays) don't necessarily decorate any better than do the middle class or even the poor. That is, what we find in our drives is that neighborhoods with modest homes decorate just as colorfully as do more affluent neighborhoods -- in fact, maybe more colorfully.
How do I account for that? Well, I think many of the well-to-do (excluding the nouveau riche, of course) have been bred to regard the most colorful of outdoor Christmas displays to be decidedly too gauche for their exclusive tastes. In addition, I'm sure homeowners associations, zoning laws and the like have something to say on this subject.
As enjoyable as it is just to look at such decorations, that's not why I am offering you this photo gallery. No, its purpose is to give you ideas for decorating your own yard. Have a look at these Christmas light displays to see if there's anything you feel you could improve upon. No pressure, though: even just mimicking one of these ideas is acceptable. Remember, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.
Photo ©2012 David Beaulieu (licensed to About, Inc.)
I live in a cold climate, so my own personal December to-do list for the yard isn't very long. There will be some stray fallen leaves left that I may get around to picking up (assuming it hasn't snowed yet by then). Maybe I'll also take advantage of my plants' dormancy to do some transplanting that I didn't dare try earlier. Early in the month I'll protect some plants from wind damage, while the weather's still hospitable enough that yours truly won't be suffering any damage on his own part from stepping outside.
But if you live in a warmer climate, you may wish to check out Marie Iannotti's list to see what you should be doing next month. While I'm far from being a workaholic, I must admit that I envy you!
For the rest of us, December is all about planning ahead, making plant selections for next year's landscaping. There's a lot to be said for the joys of anticipation. I do take my garden somewhat for granted during the summer, when stepping outside and enjoying blossoms like those on candytuft (picture) is a daily occurrence. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and I can assure you that I take nothing about spring for granted!
Photo ©2007 David Beaulieu, Landscaping Guide (licensed to About, Inc.)
Installing hardscaping in your yard can be a great way to reduce maintenance. But the main problem with hardscaping is that it looks too...well, too hard. As a solution, folks sometimes mix plants and hardscaping together -- the plants will take the "rough edges," if you will, off of the hardscaping. You can find all sorts of examples of this "marriage made in the yard," including:
- Window boxes that soften the harsh lines of patios
- Container gardens and container-grown trees used on decks (picture)
- A grass strip left to run up the center of a driveway
- Ground covers used as fillers in between the stepping stones
But one of the most complete integrations of hardscaping and plants comes when we nestle a patio into a landscape in such a way that it doesn't stick out like a sore thumb. Could you use some help in this regard? Read my article on patio landscaping for some ideas.
A Look Ahead: Pictures of Christmas Light Displays
Photo ©2010 David Beaulieu, Landscaping Guide (licensed to About, Inc.)
When do-it-yourselfers have slight slopes to tame, they can build retaining walls themselves to meet the challenge. Stone retaining walls are also visually appealing and complement rock gardens beautifully. You can even use stone retaining walls as "planters" later!
Plants that have the ability to cascade are especially useful in back plantings for stone retaining walls. Some perennial flowers that look wonderful cascading over rocks are:
More: Patio Landscaping
I've been posing a question to my readers recently in my Landscaping newsletter: namely, "What are your favorite plants?" Reader, Claudia told us about her favorite plant, answered a few questions about it, and included photos. I'm making her the "Featured Reader" for today. Claudia's favorite: peonies.
Would you like to be the Featured Reader someday? All you need is a camera and a keyboard. You can make your submission using this form.
Claudia's problem: She moved from the North (where peonies do well) to the South (where they don't). Read the full article to discover how Claudia achieved success with peonies in Georgia. One of her tips relates to a landscaping chore that may be on your agenda in the near future: mulching.
Get your dose of holiday cheer: Picture of Santa's Sleigh
Photo ©2006 David Beaulieu, Landscaping Guide (licensed to About, Inc.)
I even enjoy shopping for trees this time of year. What nurseries are still open for business will be far less crowded now than they were earlier in the year. That means more elbow room for you, as you browse -- but it means more than just that. For instance, you may be able to pick some brains during this slow time in a way that would be impossible when the hordes are still doing their shopping. Furthermore, there may be some bargains to be had -- not only for trees, but also for shrubs or perennials.
Now that you know late fall is a good time to plant trees, find out why this is so. It's easy to forget such pointers if you never absorb the whys and wherefores behind them! This article explains the reasons why some times of the year are better than others for planting trees.
Read article: Best Time to Plant Trees
Photo ©2011 David Beaulieu, Landscaping Guide (licensed to About, Inc.)